FEDERAL CRIMINAL FORFEITURE LAWS
Federal agencies can try to seize property under criminal or civil law. Please click here to learn about federal civil forfeiture laws. In criminal matters, forfeiture is a punitive measure. That is, it’s a type of penalty taken against a defendant after conviction of a crime.
Two separate burdens of proof are noteworthy for one to understand federal criminal forfeiture cases. The first is “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Unlike federal civil forfeiture cases, criminal charges must be filed in these proceedings in order for the government to pursue the forfeiture of property. In addition, a defendant must be found guilty of these charges; and, the defendant’s guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
The actual forfeiture of property though requires a lower burden of proof. If a defendant is found guilty of a crime (beyond a reasonable doubt), then for forfeiture of property to occur, the government must show, by “a preponderance of the evidence,” that there was a connection between the property and the crime. If the defendant cannot rebut this showing, then the government may seize the property in question.
As with federal civil forfeiture cases, the United States Supreme Court has identified three categories of property that are subject to forfeiture. These include:
- Contraband – property for which it’s a crime to own (e.g., illegal drugs)
- Proceeds from illegal activity – essentially property that results from, or can be traced back to illegal activity
- Tools used in commission of a crime – property used to commit a crime